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NWSL Power Rankings: Portland Thorns back on top

(Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL is just over halfway through the regular season as they head into a two-week break. Teams played yet another week with multiple replacement players as international tournaments continued.

For the first time in a long while, the JWS power rankings feature movement from every team (find last week’s power rankings here). The Portland Thorns jump back into first, Kansas City move into a season-best fourth, and the bottom five teams are a jumble. Adding to the chaos is the fact that two of the top four teams from last week’s NWSL standings suffered losses, and one game was postponed.

Here are this week’s power rankings.

12. North Carolina Courage (2-5-2) -1

The Courage did not play this week. Their match against Angel City FC on Friday was postponed until Sept. 14 due to COVID-19 protocols. Their drop in the power rankings is a result of other teams moving ahead of them.

11. Racing Louisville FC (2-5-5) +1

There is something about playing the No. 1 San Diego Wave that lights a fire under Racing Louisville. They could have easily overtaken the Wave for a second time this year in what ended up as a 0-0 draw on Friday. The thrilling match of penalty shot saves and goal-line clearances was in Louisville’s favor as they controlled 53 percent of the possession and dominated in the second half especially.

10. NJ/NY Gotham FC (4-6-0) -1

With a 5-0 loss to the Portland Thorns on Saturday, Gotham FC now has the most losses (six) in the league despite having played the second fewest games. Somehow they had more possession at 53 percent and finished with a 79 percent passing accuracy, and still they were unable to create any dangerous scoring chances.

9. Washington Spirit (1-5-7) -1

“Washington caused a lot of problems,” Orlando Pride acting head coach Seb Hines said after their 0-0 draw Sunday. Despite Washington’s disappointing record, the statement is on brand for the Spirit, who give opponents some of the toughest competition they’ve faced this year. The Spirit controlled most of Sunday’s match in the attacking third and created plenty of chances that they weren’t able to put away. The lack of a finishing touch has been detrimental for them this season and is holding them back in these power rankings.

8. Orlando Pride (3-5-4) +2

Despite an otherwise disappointing season for the Pride, July hasn’t been a bad month for them. In their last three games, they’ve gone 1-0-2, most recently tying the Washington Spirit 0-0. Despite being outshot 17-4, Orlando should have had a couple of goals by halftime, especially on Darian Jenkins’ breakaway. In the second half, they worked together as a unit to read Washington’s plays. It’s clear this team has been growing over the past few games.

7. Angel City FC (5-4-2) -2

Like the Courage, Angel City didn’t play this week and has been surpassed by other teams as a result.

6. Houston Dash (5-4-3) +1

The biggest takeaways from the past week are that the Dash are the most dramatic team in the NWSL when it comes to score lines. and that acquiring Ebony Salmon was a darn good trade. Formerly with Louisville, Salmon scored a hat trick for her side in their 4-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars, who were No. 2 at the time of the match. The outcome was probably the least expected of the week, but not necessarily surprising. Since the beginning of June, the Dash have also recorded a 5-0 win, a 4-0 loss and a 4-3 win, making them one of the most unpredictable clubs in the league. For now, the decisive win bumps them up a spot in the power rankings.

5. OL Reign (4-3-5) -1

Tobin Heath’s short but much-anticipated debut with the Reign wasn’t enough to secure any points on Sunday. The team’s 1-0 loss to Kansas City was an even game, however, with the lone goal coming from a penalty shot. The Reign put a lot of pressure on the Current’s defense, and their own defense registered five blocks and 13 interceptions. They weren’t able to produce as many good scoring chances, with their forwards not controlling the attacking third in the way they’re capable of.

4. Kansas City Current (5-4-3) +2

The Current’s hashtag, #TealRising, couldn’t tell the story any better. A 1-0 win over the OL Reign on Sunday extended their winning streak to three and unbeaten streak to seven, vaulting them even further up the standings. Lo’eau Labonta’s penalty kick was the deciding goal, but the Current showed offensive flair throughout the game and goalkeeper AD Franch made a couple of big saves to keep Kansas City on the front foot.

3. San Diego Wave FC (6-3-4) +1

The Wave played the most exciting draw the league has seen all season against Racing Louisville on Friday. The points could have easily gone either way after the high-tempo affair. Although the stats leaned in Louisville’s favor, San Diego was the stronger side in the first half. They lost their grip in the second, but goalkeeper Carly Telford kept her team in the game, making six big saves across the 90 minutes.

2. Chicago Red Stars (5-2-5) -1

A 4-1 defeat to the Dash wasn’t expected when the Red Stars went into the game tied for the fewest losses in the league. When forward Mallory Pugh was sidelined with an injury during the Challenge Cup, the Red Stars had a tough time finding the back of the net, and the problem resurfaced with Pugh away at the Concacaf W Championship. Chicago had 21 shots against Houston but couldn’t find the back of the net.

1. Portland Thorns FC (5-1-6) +1

The Thorns are becoming the rulers of blowout victories. Even with players out on international duty, they’ve demonstrated an undeniable amount of depth, with five different players scoring in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout of Gotham FC. The Thorns join the Reign with the most shutouts in the league (six) as they move to second in the standings. Setting the new league record on Saturday for the three fastest goals scored after kickoff (10:13), they also top the NWSL with 29 goals and are the only team with a double-digit goal differential of plus-19.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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